“Remind me why I’m doing this again?” Monroe asked, his words punctuated by loud crunching sounds.
“Because after what happened with Billy, there is no way in hell I’m letting another Ziegevolk escape,” Nick said fiercely. “If there’s even a chance that the owner of this “Enchanted Rose Inn” might be a danger to more innocent women, then I owe it to them to make sure.”
“Okay, okay, no need to freak out on me,” Monroe interjected quickly, holding up his hands in capitulation. “Geez, you Grimms always take everything so seriously, like hunting down the baddies is your freaking destiny or something.”
“Okay Mr. ‘Big Bad’,” Nick said sarcastically, “If it’s not destiny, what is it then?”
“A job, man! Same as tending bar or delivering mail,” Monroe insisted, the crunching picking up once again. “And for the last time, it’s blutbad, not big bad - at this point, you’re just embarrassing yourself.”
“Okay, seriously, what are you munching on over there?” Nick asked, glancing briefly toward the passenger seat before returning his eyes to the road. “You’d better not be getting crumbs all over my car.”
“Just some pork rinds,” Monroe mumbled, his words nearly unintelligible over the sound of the crunching.
“Pork rinds, really?” Nick asked amusedly, arching an eyebrow at him. “Isn’t that a little obvious?”
“I’m reformed, not dead,” Monroe shot back a bit sulkily, cradling the bag protectively in his lap. “Even a wolf’s gotta indulge once in a while.”
This earned him a grin from Nick who added, “Listen, man, I want to thank you for coming with me on this little road trip. I couldn’t exactly spin my partner a story about a cult of bed and breakfast owning serial killers stalking the Pacific Northwest.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Monroe said, still looking a little sullen. “You realize that you owe me at least five now, right? And while we’re on the subject, answer me this - why is that I’m always the one you come running to whenever you get the least bit stuck on a case, but it’s your partner who’s raking in the big bucks from the department?”
“Hmm, a homicide detective raking in the ‘big bucks’? That’s a fairy tale creature I’m not familiar with,” Nick said sardonically. Upon seeing that Monroe apparently expected a more complete answer, he added with a sigh, “Okay, okay, you’re right - I have been taking advantage of your...particular skill set without compensating you properly. Why don’t I talk to the Captain on Monday, see if I can get you set up as a CI?”
“What are you gonna say, ‘Oh hey boss, just thought I’d let you know, for the past few weeks, I’ve been solving crimes based on fairy tales with the help of my good buddy, the blutbad. Think you can throw some department resources his way?’ “ Monroe asked sarcastically.
“I’ll just tell him you’re a drug dealer or something,” Nick countered.
“A drug dealer?” Monroe demanded incredulously. “Nick, I wear sweater-vests. I drink Bordeaux. I play the cello, for God’s sake. No one in his right mind is going to believe that I’m a drug dealer.”
“Oh fine, I don’t know, I’ll think of something else, then,” Nick shot back with a frustrated sigh.
“Forget about it,” Monroe said after a minute, “On second thought, I’d rather not have the other blutbaden thinking that I’m a narc. My mother’s still mad at me for ruining last year’s Thanksgiving by taking the dinner back to her parents.”
Nick’s first instinct was to ask to hear that story, but he ultimately decided that, no, on second thought, he’d just rather not know. “Just so we’re clear,” he said instead, shifting the subject, “I am grateful for all the help. Truth be told, without you, I’d have probably been Reaper bait by now.”
“Well, no shit, Grimmlock,” Monroe scoffed, “Why do you think I’ve been babysitting you this whole time? You can’t even be trusted to cross the street without getting into trouble.” Though Monroe continued to stare at the passing scenery just as he had before, the pleased smile lurking just at the corners of his mouth let Nick know that his words had achieved the desired effect.
Three more bags of pork rinds, two hours, and one rousing game of Twenty Questions later, their yellow VW Bug was rolling onto the bougainvillea-lined streets of Monterrey, California. At the end of one such street was a pleasant, green Victorian, distinguished from the surrounding houses by its dusky pink shutters; and swaying cheerfully in the breeze beside it was a sign painted with the words "Enchanted Rose Inn" in sprawling, gold script.
"Nice place!" Monroe said, stepping out of the car with a low, appreciative whistle. "Sure doesn't look too dangerous to me."
"Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving," Nick said darkly as he made his way around the car toward the trunk.
"You know,” Monroe said, changing the subject a bit hesitantly, "I’ve been doing something thinking about our cover story.”
“And?” Nick asked expectantly after Monroe had trailed off.
“And...I just don't think it holds up under close scrutiny,” Monroe said finally.
"What's to scrutinize?" Nick retorted. "We're a couple of buddies on a trek across the country who needed a place to crash for the night and ended up here."
"Oh, yeah, it’s not at all suspicious that a couple of bros would select a bed-and-breakfast with a highly recommended couples’ jam-making workshop when there’s a Radisson two blocks down the road,” Monroe said sarcastically.
“Okay, hotshot,” Nick challenged, “If you don’t like my story, what’s yours?”
“Simple,” Monroe said, swinging Nick’s suitcase out of the trunk, “We’re a couple.”
“What?” Nick asked incredulously, “That’s...I mean, that’s just...”
“A damn good idea,” Monroe insisted. “Come on, we looked through the guest book at the Bramble House - do you remember a single listing not for a couple?”
“I know I remember seeing a couple of guys listed together,” Nick insisted. “Tom Somebody and Bill...Bill...”
“Oh, you mean Tom Parks and Bill LaFleur?” Monroe asked innocently.
“That’s them!” Nick said, relieved, “See, we could be like them. Just a couple of straight dudes staying at a bed and breakfast. Not weird at all.”
“Yeah, sure, just a couple of straight dudes who wrote in the comment section, what was it now, ‘Billy, your banana nut muffins are just a little slice of heaven.’ “
“You don’t know that means they were gay,” Nick pointed out, “Who says a straight guy can’t enjoy a good muffin now and again? You shouldn’t give in so easily to stereotypes, Monroe.”
“Oh, yeah, and that bit added under it, ‘The bed was so comfortable! Tom and I just didn’t want to get out of it come Sunday morning, winky face.’ Very heterosexual.”
“Oh, shut up,” Nick said, rolling his eyes. “Fine, say we do this - what’s our backstory? How long have we been together? When did we meet?”
“I made you a dossier,” Monroe said eagerly, pulling it out of his brown leather travelling case.
“What?” Nick exclaimed, flabbergasted. “When did you have a chance to make that?”
“Last night, while you were sleeping,” Monroe explained with a shrug. “The Good Wife was a repeat.”
“Oh, well, of course,” Nick said, “Makes perfect sense then that you would spend the time compiling an actual dossier on a fake relationship I didn’t even know we were in. God, how long have you been planning this?”
“You don’t have to make it sound so calculated,” Monroe objected, sounding a little hurt. “I just thought it would help the investigation, that’s all. But if you want to go with your half-assed suggestion and make the ziegevolk all suspicious, then, fine, that’s your business.”
Nick heaved a put-upon sigh, wondered not for the first time how Monroe managed to talk him into these things, and said, “All right, what’s the story?”
Monroe's face immediately brightened as he began, “Well, you see I was a brilliant writer, who was struggling to make ends meet by working in a bookstore slash coffee shop...that is until I met you.”
“Let me guess,” Nick said sarcastically, “I’m the literary agent who changed your whole life by discovering you.”
“No,” Monroe replied, “Although, come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea...”
“Monroe,” Nick said a bit impatiently, making a ‘get on with it’ motion with his hand.
“Right, sorry,” Monroe said quickly, jumping back into his narrative. “No, you were a police sketch artist, dissatisfied with the dark nature of your work and unable to find a job that let you truly express yourself creatively...that is until you met me.”
Nick couldn’t help smiling a little at the sheer depth and complexity of the backstory Monroe had invented for them. “All right, I’m intrigued - what’s the rest of the story?”
“One rainy afternoon a few months back, disillusioned with your grim life's work - no pun intended - you wandered into Coffee House of Usher."
"The bookstore slash coffee shop is named Coffee House of Usher?" Nick asked incredulously, stifling a chuckle.
"Hey, don't look at me, I only worked there," Monroe said, so wrapped up in his story that he seemed to be forgetting it was exactly that. "Anyway, you wandered in, sat down at a table by the window, and started sketching. That was when I noticed you."
"Because I was so devastatingly handsome?” Nick guessed, throwing his head back with a grin.
“No,” Monroe corrected firmly, “So stop looking so smug. On the contrary, it was your sketches that caught my eye.”
“That’s what you told me,” Nick decided, “But really, you’d been ogling my ass since I walked in. Don’t try to deny it, my memory is crystal clear.”
“Well, I certainly don’t recall it that way,” Monroe said with a sniff. “I remember distinctly going over with the intention of telling you that you were the answer to my prayers.”
“Now that part rings true,” Nick contributed, enjoying this more than he had any right to.
“Hey, I’ll stop if you’re going to be like this,” Monroe threatened. When Nick’s gesture of surrender and contrite expression had duly appeased him, he continued, “It was then that I told you I’d been writing a graphic novel for months but had given up finding the perfect illustrator...and then bam!, you showed up.”
“And so you asked me out for coffee,” Nick continued, unaware of how immersed he had become in the story, “And I pointed out that was pretty ironic considering we were already in a coffee house, so we agreed on a drink.”
“I took you to my favorite wine bar,” Monroe chimed in, “And finally revealed my idea - a re-imagining of Grimm’s fairy tales. All the dark twists of the original, but in a modern setting.”
“I loved the idea,” Nick said slowly, “It was so fresh, yet familiar - it felt like the chance I had been waiting for.”
“We went back to my place, and you sketched for hours. Before we knew it, midnight had come and gone, and we had enough of a rough copy to show to a publisher."
"Elated, slap-happy even," Nick said, now sounding thoroughly as if actually speaking from memory, "we were jumping up and down."
"Then we were hugging," Monroe added.
"Then we were kissing," Nick echoed, his breathing suddenly a little shallow. "Before long, we were tearing each other's clothes off and tearing up the stairs to the bedroom with equal ferocity."
"We went at it until dawn, spurred on by a heady mixture of lust and creativity," Monroe added eagerly.
"Then slept for hours and hours, ignoring every demand the outside world tried to make of us," Nick reminisced, his tone distinctly wistful.
"Day jobs, bills, routines, suddenly none of it mattered - there was only the work, and us," Monroe agreed.
"We rushed the mock-up to a publisher, and she loved it - said it was the most original thing she'd seen in ages. She even gave us an advance right then and there."
"Which we promptly went out and spent half of on a fancy dinner and an absurdly expensive bottle of champagne with which to toast to our future.”
“And I suppose the rest, as the say,” Nick mused, “was history.”
It was only when the words finally stopped flowing between them that Nick and Monroe realized that in all the excitement, they had somehow wound up only a few inches from one another and were both a breathing a little raggedly.
“So we should probably..umm....” Nick began awkwardly, averting his eyes from Monroe's as he inclined his head toward the front door.
“Yeah,” Monroe agreed quickly, letting out a little nervous laugh, “Otherwise they’ll be wondering about our intentions, lurking in the driveway like this.”
“And we’re going ahead with the...um..the cover?” Nick asked hesitantly.
“I mean, sure...only if you want to, that is,” Monroe replied.
“Well, since you did go to the trouble and it would be less suspicious, I think we should probably just do it,” Nick reasoned, adding a doubtful, “Don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Monroe agreed with a firm nod, “Yeah, why not...er, dear.”
Nick looked at him quizzically for a few seconds before understanding dawned. “Right, yeah, we should, um, we should get used to that, I suppose. All the coupley stuff.” Nick tentatively snaked an arm around Monroe's waist. “Too much?”
“Just right, I should think,” Monroe said slowly, returning the gesture by draping his own arm over Nick’s shoulders. “Ready to go in...honey?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Nick replied, grabbing his overnight bag in his free hand, “...cupcake.” Upon seeing the look Monroe was giving him, Nick implored, “Can we forget I said that, please?”
“Anything you want,” Monroe consented easily, “...love bug.”
Nick groaned, wishing he had a free hand to smack himself in the forehead with, causing Monroe to go on, “Not a fan? How about...peaches? Dollface? Cuddle monkey?”
“If we weren’t in public, I would be very tempted to kill you right now,” Nick said through gritted teeth as they maneuvered as a unit through the welcoming, pink door of the spacious house.
“Now, is that any way to talk to your boyfriend slash business partner?” Monroe asked in mock distress before turning his attention to the small, elderly woman manning the front desk.
“Good afternoon,” he said in as pleasant a voice as a blutbad could reasonably manage, “We would like a room for the weekend, please.”
“Well, bless your heart,” the woman said, clasping her hands together, “Let me just see what we have available.” She pulled out an ancient journal bound in brown leather and began to leaf through its yellowed pages. Finally, her weathered fingers ceased their surprisingly nimble flipping and settled on a single page. "Ah yes," she announced, her tone outwardly cheerful with an undertone of curious interest, "I believe we have the Castle Suite available. Would that suit you?”
“Perfectly,” Nick assured her with a dazzling smile, leaning casually on the polished oak of the welcome desk, “Especially if it’s as lovely as the rest of the-” Nick stopped talking as his gesturing arm came in contact with a porcelain vase perched on the edge of the desk, causing it to topple to the ground with a loud crash.
“Oh, I am so, so sorry,” Nick said apologetically, watching the woman’s face carefully as she bent to pick up the shards of vase and place them on the desk.
To his disappointment, her features did not shift, spin, or hint in any way to a more sinister nature lurking beneath the surface. Indeed, when her eyes met Nick's again, they were still the kindly, if startling shrewd, blue eyes of a perfectly normal old woman.
"Don't think a thing about it, dear," she said graciously. "No harm done. None that a little glue and some carefully applied pressure won't fix anyhow. Now, shall I show you to your room?"
"No need," Monroe said quickly, perhaps wanting to discourage Nick from inflicting any more damage to the premises. “I’m sure we can find it. Rooms are up the stairs, I presume?”
“Yes, dear,” the old woman replied, gesturing in that direction. “And the Castle Suite’s the one at the very end, on the left. If you need something, anything at all, please just ring the desk, and I’ll take care of it. Now, dinner will be served at six o’clock precisely in the main dining room. I trust you two will be joining us.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Monroe assured her, before grabbing his leather travelling case in one hand and Nick’s sleeve in the other and heading up the stairs.
“Mind telling me what that was about?” Monroe hissed the second they were out of earshot.
“I wanted to see if I could draw her out,” Nick whispered, “you know, make her release the inner Ziegevolk.”
“Well, you’re clearly going to have to think of something a little more extreme than wreaking havoc on the furnishings,” Monroe shot back, as they reached the end of the hallway and a shiny, wooden door engraved with the words “Castle Suite.”
“I guess this is us,” Nick said, feeling inexplicably nervous as he watched Monroe turn the large, ornate key their hostess had given them in the brass lock beneath the doornob.
In lieu of a response, Monroe flung open the door to reveal a spacious, yet still inexplicably cozy room, flanked on one end by a roaring fireplace, and the other by a roomy four-poster canopy bed.
“Wow-ee,” Monroe exclaimed, letting out an appreciative whistle as he flung himself on the coverlet of the bed with a soft thud. “What a room! Looks like we hit the jackpot.”
“Yeah,” Nick murmured, the homey elegance of the room somehow serving to only make him more uneasy, “Lucky us.”